Britons get their skates on for winter

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A new generation of amateur skaters is gliding to ice-rinks across Britain this winter as the sport enjoys its greatest revival since Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean danced their way to Olympic glory.

Nearly a quarter century after the couple's gold medal triumph in Sarajevo, the sport's image has been rejuvenated by the success of their surprise hit ITV show, Dancing on Ice.

As the largest outdoor ice-rink in Britain opened in London at the weekend, ice-skating clubs reported an upsurge in interest from beginners eager to sample the activity's blend of care-free pleasure and occasional pain.

As many as 4,000 novices and veterans took to the ice on Saturday against the backdrop of London's Hyde Park for the first day of the Winter Wonderland rink, which was created by freezing 130,000 litres of water. Weighing 130 tonnes and kept 0C by 13km of piping, the attraction covers 1,400 square metres of the park and accommodates 400 skaters at a time.

Other outdoor rinks have opened around the country in recent weeks as interest once again flourishes in a pastime which first enjoyed something of a golden age during the post-war leisure boom.

As many as eight large rinks are open this year in London alone Hyde Park, the Natural History museum, Canary Wharf, Somerset House, the Tower of London, Kew Gardens, Greenwich and Hampton Court Palace.

Gwyn Davies, the vice-Chairman of the Alexandra Palace Amateur Ice Skating Club in north London, said that interest in ice-skating had been reawakened by its appearance on prime time television.

"People had forgotten about ice-skating, to be honest, and it has not had much coverage as a sport recently because we haven't had so many big stars since Torvill and Dean," she said. "Before Dancing on Ice we were a bit worried about our finances and were going to have to cut down on our sessions. New rinks are now opening up and we have put on extra classes for beginners."

Contestants in the second series of the show, scheduled to air in January, are said to include singers Gareth Gates and Samantha Mumba, tennis player Greg Rusedski, sports presenter Natalie Pinkham, Hollyoaks actor Chris Fountain, former Hear'Say member Suzanne Shaw and the former Blue Peter presenter Sarah Greene.

The nation on ice

* Winter Wonderland, Hyde Park, London

London's largest rink has a toboggan slide, big wheel and Christmas market.

Open until 6 January, 10am to 10pm daily

Adults 10 to 12.50, children 7.50

* Somerset House Ice Rink, The Strand, London

Set in Somerset House's 18th-century courtyard, this rink has a huge Christmas tree decorated by Tiffany's and special sessions for children, students and disabled people.

Open until 28 January, 10am to 10.15pm daily

Adults 10 to 12.50, children 7

* On Ice at Piccadilly, Piccadilly Gardens, Manchester

This 810 sq m rink in Manchester's central square sits beside an ice chalet serving hot drinks, and a series of Christmas market stalls.

Open until 6 January

11am to 10.30pm daily

Adults 8.50, children 5.50

* Edinburgh Winter Wonderland, Princes Street Gardens

Set beneath Edinburgh Castle, features a three-lane snow slide, a market, rides and a 'kiddies' rink.

Open until 6 January

10am to 8pm

Adults 10, children 5

* Cardiff Winter Wonderland, City Hall Lawn, Cardiff

Features a heated terrace, a caf bar and a carousel

Open until 6 January 6

11am to 10.40pm daily

Adults 6.50, children 4.50

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